by Ian McNeur

Being a narrow island country between latitudes 341 and 480 south, New Zealand has a relatively mild climate without extremes of heat and cold. Because of this, tuberous begonias can be grown in a partly shaded place outdoors, or in a shade house anywhere in the country. Evergreen types are more suited to the northern parts, but a few are gown under protection in the south.

Because of this, to most New Zealanders a Begonia is a large flowered beauty and the uninitiated wouldn’t know there was any other kind. Our journal Begonia News covers a wide range of topics but mostly relating to tuberous begonias.

Some growers import named varieties from Britain and Australia and make them available to other growers around the country so that the worlds best flowers are available here. The shops sell a miscellaneous collection of tubers and some of us do our own hybridizing to see what we can improve on.

Most reasonable sized towns have public gardens with conservatories featuring tuberous begonias during summer.

One thing that British visitors comment on is the number of basket type begonias (pendulas) that we have, as they normally form a large part of a grower’s display. A few of the old fashioned, narrow petaled type are still sold, but most pendulas used have good quality rose form flowers based on plants selected from Antonelli Brothers seed.

As there have been no competitive Begonia shows here in the past, we are not prodded towards any rules determining what a good flower or display should be and everyone has their own way of growing and displaying their own favorite plants. The smooth symmetry of Blackmore and Langdon’s large flowered, beauties (standards) normally occupy center stage in the shade house, but ‘Non Stops’, multifloras, and home grown seedlings vie for position, especially outdoors.

Of the evergreen varieties grown here, some rhizomatous such as Rex, B. ‘Cleopatra’, B. ‘Silver Jewel’, and B. bowerae var. nigramarga are used as house plants and some shrub types such as B.fuchsioides ‘Rosea’, B. scharffii, and B. acutifolia as well as a few canes are grown outdoors or in conservatories.

I have been breeding B. tuberhybrida for fragrance, helped very considerably by seed from Howard Siebold, and already scented begonias are enhancing the atmosphere of some shade houses here, with standard pendulas and tinies all adding to the show.

Britain claims to be the home of the best tuberous begonias, but I think we can run her pretty close or even surpass her from the point of view of a home display.

Blackmore and Langdon’s B. ‘Sugar Candy’ decided to cascade in New Zealand. | Photo: Ian McNeur.